Look for these signs of an infected surgical incision

I recently visited with a new client who had an abdominal hernia repair surgery at North Cypress Medical Center, in the Houston suburb of Cypress, Texas.

As a Houston medical malpractice lawyer, this was not the first time that I had been retained by an injured hernia surgery patient at that hospital.

Signs and symptoms of surgical wound infection

By the time this patient went back for her one-week follow-up appointment with her surgeon, her stomach was swelling and had a small foul. The surgeon did not examine her for a potential infection of the surgical wound and, in fact, did not even take her temperature. Instead, he suggested that she use a tighter compression garment.

This was incredibly poor judgment by the surgeon. After all, this lady had textbook symptoms of an infected surgical wound, including: pus or drainage, a bad smell coming from the wound, redness, and pain. Other signs and symptoms include a fever and a wound that is hot touch.

The next day, the surgical incision opened up (dehisced), with pus flowing out of it. She called and sent text messages to her surgeon and his office, but found out that he was out of the country. She decided to go to the North Cypress Medical center emergency room to get checked out.

She was admitted to the hospital and she told surgeon after surgeon about her open wound, but they did not want to get involved in her care. Eventually, her surgeon returned from his vacation and came to her room. Even though this lady was going through terrible pain and had pus coming from her surgical wound, the surgeon declined to send the fluid to the lab for a culture. He discharged her from the hospital with a prescription for pain medication, but no antibiotics to treat her underlying problem.

About a month after the original hernia surgery, she went for another follow-up visit with her surgeon. He noticed the dead skin and damaged tissue and recommended debridement of the wound. Debridement is a painful procedure where the dead and damaged skin is scraped or cut off.

Yet, the surgeon still did not culture the pus coming out of the wound and gave her no antibiotics. The patient decided to see a wound care doctor, who cultured the fluid coming out of the wound, and discovered that she had Methicillin resistant Staph aureus (MRSA). The wound care doctor started her on powerful antibiotics to start killing the infection.

This lady had been through so much with her original surgeon that she found a reconstructive plastic surgeon to help her. He invited the original surgeon to join him in the operating room to figure out how to help this patient, but the original surgeon did not show up. During the surgery, the second surgeon cut out all the extensive dead tissue and sent cultures for testing during the surgery to make sure that he had removed all of the infected tissue. After this surgery, her wound finally started healing.

In all, it took five months to heal from the original hernia surgery.

Insisting on follow-up care

In my experience, surgeons are frequently eager to take patients to surgery, but dread having to see and treat their patients after the surgery is complete. In my mind (as a father), I think of Tarzan swinging in for the surgery and then swinging out for a quick departure.

You can develop an infection after surgery even with quality surgical, medical, and nursing care. The key question, though, is how a surgeon handles such infections.

The standard of care is clear. Rather than rushing in and out of the room in post-surgical follow-up appointments, surgeons are required to give their patients individual attention, including examining the surgical wounds (looking for redness, swelling, discharge, and pain) and listening to the patients and their questions and complaints.

If there is concern for an infection, the standard of care requires surgeons to collect and send samples for a culture. And, of course, the treatment for infection starts with includes orders for antibiotic medications.

If you find yourself in this situation, do whatever is reasonably necessary to get your surgeon to slow down and look at you as an individual patient, rather than clicking a few boxes on the computer and moving on. Be sure to share each and every concern you have about an infection, or any other complication, and ask specific questions about what treatment is needed to address them.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured by negligent surgical, nursing, or hospital care, then call Painter Law Firm, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential medical malpractice claim.


Robert Painter is an experienced attorney at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, where he represents patients and their families in medical negligence cases. Throughout his career, he has handled many botched surgery cases where surgeons either made mistakes during an operation or failed to act on clear signed of complications that were obvious after surgery.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.